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Vote for your favorite Platinum Post

Dear Platinum Members, It is time to vote on your favorite Platinum guest posts to go on to the blog at large.  We've had some dandy submissions over the past two months.  Here are the four options. To vote, send the name of your choice to Diane, at [email protected].  Your DEADLINE:  Saturday midnight (your time), March 4.   She will tally the results and I will inform the lucky winner. Remember: you too can submit a Platinum post.  Have any ideas/thoughts you'd like to bounce off a group of very generous and interested readers?  It doesn't have to be brilliant or scholarly: just whatever you feel like addressing connected to the blog.  If you're interested, zap one to me!  If you have questions, let me know.     January 13, 2023 Paul and the Gospels Ryan Fleming January 30, 2023 Recreational Drugs in the New Testament? Doug Wadeson February 3, 2023 Was the Roman Soldier Pantera Jesus’ Father? His Cousin? Omar Robb February 10, 2023 Why Do Muslims Deny that Jesus Was Crucified? Imran M. Usmani [...]

2023-03-01T10:18:09-05:00February 28th, 2023|Public Forum|

The End of the World Means the End of Sex. Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

Here now is the third post by Platinum blog member Daniel Kohanski, based on his recently published book A God of our Invention.   This one should grab your attention!   **************************** From its beginnings, Christianity has had theological difficulties with human sexuality. In this edited excerpt from my latest book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World, I lay out what I believe are some of the reasons for this. --------------------------------------------------------------- The first Christian commentator that we have record of, the Apostle Paul, was also the first to recommend that Christians avoid sexual activity and stay celibate. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am” (1 Cor. 7:8). Still, he did accept that not all were capable of it. He advised the Corinthians that if a man “thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin” (1 [...]

Do We Suffer Because We Have “Free Will”?

In my previous posts I discussed a class I once taught at Rutgers University on how the various biblical authors deal with the problem of suffering – the problem of how there can be such horrible suffering in a world that is said to be controlled by an all-loving and all-powerful God (who therefore wants the best for people and is able to provide it).  Many of my students, as I pointed out, think that there’s an easy answer:  we suffer because of “free will.”  If we weren’t free to love and hate, to do good and do harm, we would just be robots or computers, not humans.  If God wanted to create humans, as opposed to machines, necessarily we have to be free to hurt others.  And many people do so, often in horrendous ways. Does that solve the problem?  Naturally we dealt with that issue in my class.  Here is how I discussed those conversations in my book on suffering, God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question – [...]

2023-02-22T12:12:39-05:00February 26th, 2023|Public Forum|

Why Would Evolving Beliefs about Sin Lead to the Idea of an Afterlife? Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

Last Week I published the first of three guest posts by blog member Daniel Kohanski, based on a book that he recently published that will be of interest to many blog readers.  Here now is the second post. ******************************             Apocryphile Press has just published my latest book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World ( The book first examines how the western world’s idea of God developed, from the Israelite worship of many gods, Yahweh included, through the first centuries of Christianity. It then looks at how that idea of God has impacted the way we deal with sex, war, and death, and how the belief that Jesus is coming back has interfered with our ability to handle crises. Here is an edited excerpt from the first part of the book, exploring how the Jews first came to believe in judgment after death. (I’ve relied on some of Bart’s books, and other scholars, for some of this material, but omitted the references for space reasons.) --------------------------------------------------------------- In the days of [...]

2023-02-27T20:08:14-05:00February 25th, 2023|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Exciting Lecture: Archaeological Finds (Artwork!) in an Ancient Galilean Synagogue

Now *this* will be a great event. My UNC colleague Jodi Magness is one of the premier archaeologists of ancient Israel in the world.  She started her career on a dig at Masada (the Roman army camps!) and for the past twelve years has run a dig in a village in Galilee called Huqoq.  Her findings have been extraordinary, far beyond what anyone could hope for.  Her team uncovered a (fifth-century) synagogue and discovered amazing mosaics unlike anything known before -- pictorial art, depicting humans (possibly Alexander the Great) and biblical scenes (Samson!).  Pictorial art in a *synagogue*?!?  What??  If you read National Geographic, you'll know about these discoveries: her dig is featured in the magazine nearly every year. This coming Wednesday, March 1, 6:00 pm Jodi will be giving an online lecture with slides about their most recent finds.  I'll be hosting the event.  It will not be recorded.  There is no charge, though it is a fund-raiser for my department to help provide research funds for our graduate students (donations are voluntary). Below [...]

2023-02-25T10:58:15-05:00February 24th, 2023|Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Seeing the Problem of Suffering as a PROBLEM

In my previous post I began to talk about how thinkers in the Jewish and Christian traditions have wrestled with the problem of suffering.  I indicated that the technical term for this “problem” is “theodicy,” and it is often said to involve the status of three assertions which all are typically thought to be true by those in these two religions, but if true appear to contradict one another.  The assertions are these: God is all-powerful. God is all-loving. There is suffering. How can all three be true at once?  If God is all powerful, then he is able to do whatever he wants (and can therefore remove suffering).  If he is all loving, then he obviously wants the best for people (and therefore does not want them to suffer).  And yet people suffer.  How can that be explained?   As I pointed out some thinkers have tried to deny one or the other of the assertions: either God is not actually all powerful, or he is not all loving, or there is no suffering. But [...]

2023-02-13T11:09:27-05:00February 23rd, 2023|Public Forum|

Is Suffering a “Problem” for Believers?

This past week I had a long talk with one of my bright undergraduates, a first-year student who had been raised in a Christian context but had come to have serious doubts driven in large part by the difficulty she had understanding how there could be suffering in a world controlled by an all-knowing and all-powerful God.  I naturally resonated with the question, since this is why I myself left the Christian faith. I get asked about that transition a lot, and it’s been five or six years since I’ve discussed it at any length on the blog.  So I thought I might return to it.  The one and only time I”ve talked about it at length is in my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (Oxford University Press, 2008).  Here is how I discuss it there, slightly edited.  (This will take several posts) ******************************* I think I know when suffering started to become a “problem” for me.  It was while I was still [...]

2023-02-13T11:21:17-05:00February 22nd, 2023|Bart’s Biography, Reflections and Ruminations|

Wait, Was Jesus Married? Guest Post by Kyle Smith

This is now the second guest post by Kyle Smith, scholar of early Christianity, on a hot topic related to his recently published book.   Kyle is Associate Professor and Director of the History of Religions Program at the University of Toronto. An award-winning teacher, he is the author or coauthor of five books about Christian saints and martyrs, including Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity (University of California Press, 2022). You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and the Peloton @kylesmithTO. ******************************  Few characterizations of Jesus’s life have spurred as much intrigue (and outrage) as the idea that he might’ve been married. In 2012, before it was discredited as a forgery, a scrap of papyrus inscribed with a few lines of Coptic set off a media furor when reports emerged that it quoted Jesus as saying, “My wife …” Conveniently, the rest was cut off. Despite the abiding popularity of books like The Da Vinci Code, which might lead one to think otherwise, there is no scholarly debate over whether Jesus [...]

How Does Something “Mean”

One morning recently, at the crack of dawn, I was walking my dog when I saw my neighbor Sally walk across the street and pick up the newspaper from my neighbor Jane’s driveway, and head back to her house.  I thought WHOA!  Sally is stealing Jane’s paper! I bet her own paper didn’t get delivered this morning!  Interesting and a bit amusing. But Sally she stopped in her own driveway and picked up her (identical) paper, and I suddenly realized, OH!  Jane must be gone for a few days and Sally is picking up her paper so it won’t be obvious she’s away.  Sally wasn’t doing something slightly nasty but something very neighborly. And it made me think how the *context* of an action is completely determinative of its meaning.  The very same action, in a different context, means something different and can have, in fact, precisely the opposite moral worth. Naturally, I started thinking about other actions along these lines.  ‘Cause that’s the kind of thing I do when I walk my dog. What [...]

2023-02-23T11:10:34-05:00February 19th, 2023|Public Forum|

Is It A Sin To Be Transgender? Platinum guest post by Douglas Wadeson MD

I am very pleased to publish this guest post on what the Bible might have to say about people who are transgender.  Most people probably assume they know, or at least can surmise.  Well, read on. The post is by Douglas Wadeson, a Platinum member of the blog.  As you probably know, Platinum members are allowed to publish posts (just) for other p\Platinum members, and after a several come in then they all vote on which one goes onto the blog itself.  This one is the winner from the past batch (BTW: it was running against three other posts that were  also *terrific*).  If you would like to get in on this action -- and create a blog post yourself (for example, taking a *different* point of view to this post or to any of mine, or simply posting about what you're interested in) -- check out the Platinum level of membership (click JOIN and you'll see); there are other nice benefits as well, including a quarterly webinar that I do with Platinum members. Here [...]

2023-02-23T11:19:21-05:00February 18th, 2023|Public Forum, Sex and Sexuality in the Bible|

Analyzing the Prophecies in Daniel 7, 2 and 9. Platinum Guest Post by Omar Abur-Robb

Here Omar Abdul-Robb takes on a brave task -- interpreting the apocalyptic predictions of Daniel chapters 2, 7, and 9.  Have you read these chapters?  Do so!  It's one of the easiest ways of blowing your mind while staying within the bounds of legality.  The interpretation of these passages has been highly contested since antiquity.  Here is Omar's attempt (see Comments/questions?  Send them along! ******************************   1# I am going to discuss here the prophecies of Danial in chapters 7, 2 and 9, and I am going to argue that there are some right predictions there, which are mixed with so many wrong ones. Therefore, we cannot say that these prophecies have a divine origin as they are mixed with so many wrong predictions. But also, we cannot ignore the conclusion that there are some impressive predictions. So, I am going here to suggest a philosophical model to explain the mix in these prophecies. 2# We can clearly conclude that the prophesy in Danial chapter 11 (the north and south kings) was a man-made [...]

2023-02-01T12:49:47-05:00February 17th, 2023|Public Forum|

Is Christianity a Cult of the Dead? Guest Post by Kyle Smith, PhD

Now here's an intriguing topic I bet you've never thought about.  Can you (should we?) consider early Christianity -- and in fact Christianity as a whole, as a "cult of the dead"? Kyle Smith is an associate professor and director of the History of Religions program in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto (See:  Kyle Smith | Department of Historical Studies (  I have known Kyle for many years, since he was a PhD student in early Chrsitianity at Duke.  Since then he has become a well-known scholar of Christianity in late antiquity, who already now at a relatively young age (compared to us geezers) has published six books.  (Not sure if you know this, but many, many senior scholars publish only two or three for their entire careers.)  Five of them are hard-hitting scholarship.  His most recent one is for a general audience, Cult of the Dead: A Brief History of Christianity (University of California Press, 2022).  I think it's unusually interesting. I thought it would be extremely interesting to [...]

What Did Judas Betray, and Why Did He Do It?

In my previous post I indicated that there are several things we can say with relative certainly about the historical Judas Iscariot (and indicated why I think we can be pretty sure about all of them): he really existed, he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, he was therefore an apocalyptic Jew from Palestine, and he really did hand Jesus over to the authorities to be arrested. But what is it exactly that Judas did that led to Jesus’ arrest, and why did he do it?  Here we move from the grounds of relative historical certainty to issues of probability and speculation.  The question of Judas’s motives for his act has intrigued Christians from the time before our earliest sources and continues to intrigue scholars today.  The reality is that any discussion of motive is almost entirely speculative.  If you can’t accurately describe my motives in writing this particular blog thread the way I have – and I can assure you, you don’t know my motives (and even if I *told* you,  you couldn't be [...]

2023-02-13T18:55:11-05:00February 15th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Want To Listen to the Live Gold Q&A (and maybe ask a question)?

Dear Gold and Platinum members, I've decided to record this month's Gold Q&A live in front of whoever wants to come.  I may do this regularly.  BUT, here's the deal: I rarely know well in advance when I can squeeze it in, so if I do this on a regular basis I won't be able to announce it, well, well in advance.  But anyone who wants to come, can come.  I'm doing it on Zoom anyway, so why not? I'm doing this month's tomorrow morning,  Wed. Feb 15, at 11:00 am EST.  There's no real reason to come unless you want to see it live (since we'll be sending out the recording).   BUT: I thought it might be fun to take some live questions as well as the ones submitted in advance (for the proviso, see below).  AND: I thought I could do that as a mini-fundraiser. We are trying to raise funds for the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria (hence the Movie Club on the film Tár with guest Gisele Ben-Dor, esteemed conductor [...]

2023-02-15T10:53:13-05:00February 14th, 2023|Public Forum|

Judas Iscariot: What We Can Say With Relative Certainty. (I think…)

What then can we say with relative certainty about Judas called Iscariot?  I think the following five points just about cover it: He did exist. This has been doubted in some circles and by some scholars, of course, especially among those who have wanted to point out the etymological similarity between his name, Judas, and the word Jew, and have argued, on this and related grounds, that Judas was a creation of the early church who wanted to pin the blame of Jesus’ death on the Jewish people.  I think this is an attractive view, and one that I personally would like very much to be true, but I don’t see how it can be.  Judas figures too prominently in too many layers of our traditions to be a later fabrication.  I give all the data in my book on Judas, but here let me just say that there is unique and shared material about Judas in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – so that his existence passes the criterion of Multiple Attestation with flying [...]

2023-02-06T19:00:14-05:00February 14th, 2023|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

We Need A Volunteer to Record Audio Versions of the Blog Posts. Interested?

As you probably know, we have audio versions of all the blog posts that are available for all Gold and Platinum level members.  The audio versions go out on the same day as the written posts themselves.  It's a great benefit (if you're not Gold level yet: consider it!).  But it takes a lot of work by volunteers who are very generous with their time.  The volunteers record each post, and they are then produced and published by Ben Porter, Chief Technology Officer (who does all the technology that makes the blog work). We have two volunteers currently alternating in their reading of the posts, and we need to add another in order to keep the operation running smoothly.   Would you be interested?   To be considered, you would need to fill out a form and then submit an audition recording (all explained in the link below). We are looking for someone with a very good reading voice.  The position would take time and commitment, but the position does NOT require a lot of technical expertise.  You [...]

2023-02-13T21:59:15-05:00February 13th, 2023|Public Forum|

Jesus’ Resurrection: A Challenging Hypothetical. Guest Post by Ryan Fleming

And now *here* is an interesting way to think about whether someone was raised from the dead!  This is a Platinum Guest Post by Ryan Fleming.  It is begging for responses.  What do you think? ****************************** A short story: Suppose you are a French-resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. One of your countrymen, Jacques, is unbeknownst to you, a Nazi spy. He openly supports passivism towards Nazi authority, keeps the peace, and even promotes paying taxes to the Nazis. Periodically you see Jacques in the company of a Nazi officer. You and your fellow countrymen become suspicious, even fearful. Is he subverting the mental drive to undermine resistance, or at worst, is he giving away secrets, risking the lives of resistance fighters? You and your countrymen conspire to present a charge to Nazi authority that Jacques has raped a woman to see what they will do. You demand Jacques is guilty, present the woman as a witness who emphatically exclaims Jacques raped her, and demands Jacques must be executed. Eventually, Nazi authority, [...]

2023-02-01T12:39:30-05:00February 13th, 2023|Public Forum|

Can We Know Anything About Judas Iscariot?

 I get asked about Judas Iscariot far more than any of the other disciples, even the ones who are completely central to Jesus' life and ministry (Peter, James, and John).  I guess that's because he is seen as, ultimately, more crucial to the story of Jesus.  The betrayer.  Without him, no arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Or at least, a completely different scenario for the death of the Son of God. This week, when scrounging around looking for something else, I came across this paper I delivered at a conference years ago.  I thought it might be of interest to blog members.  This will take three posts.  (The paper was written for scholars, so I'll put any necessary explanatory notes in italics) ****************************** In recent years, more has been written and less known about Judas Iscariot than about any of Jesus’ followers, with the outstanding exception of his wife and lover, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty. (That was a little joke about people who take Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code seriously about what he says about [...]

2023-02-01T12:38:30-05:00February 12th, 2023|Early Christian Writings (100-400 CE), Historical Jesus|

How Theologians and Historians Approach the Same Bible Differently. Guest Post by Daniel Kohanski

I am very pleased to announce that a scholar of religion who is also a log-term blog member, Dan Kohanski, has just published an intriguing book of direct relevance to what we do here on the blog (A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World).  When I got the book I realized it would be great to have Dan do a couple of guest posts on the blog to share some of the views he develops in  it.  He agreed, and here is the first of three of his posts.  Feel free to comment and ask questions! ****************************** (This essay is adapted from my just-published book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World, Apocryphile Press, 2023; . Support your local independent bookstore and order using the “Buy paperback from Bookshop” link on that webpage.) There are several ways one can approach the Bible (including ignoring it), but I want to look here at two most of the most common ways: that of the theologian, and that of [...]

2023-02-01T12:07:07-05:00February 11th, 2023|Book Discussions, History of Biblical Scholarship|

Do You Want to Discuss the Movie Tár with World-Renowned Conductor Gisele Ben-Dor? Blog Fundraiser for Earthquake Victims in Turkey/Syria

We are all devastated by the ongoing reports of casualties from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.  I would like to have a blog fundraiser for funds for Doctors without Borders, one of our regular charities, who is actively on the ground dealing with the crisis. This unusually special event will be February 22, 7:30-9:00 pm.  It will be something completely different from what we normally do on the blog. The idea came about by the chance occurrence of two events.  I saw the movie Tár (with Cate Blanchette) when it came out, and I was blown away by it (which rarely happens).  As many of you know, it is a powerful portrayal of a female conductor who abuses her power and suffers the consequences.  It is a riveting script, with fantastic acting, addressing massively important issues with twists and terrific nuance. I wanted to know, among other things, how "good" it was and "true to life" and thought to ask someone who would be able to talk about it with authority .  Some of [...]

2023-02-13T13:57:49-05:00February 10th, 2023|Public Forum|
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